It takes about 30 seconds with illustrator Carey Pietsch and the McElroys to understand how much they loved working together on The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins. It’s the first in a planned series of adaptations of The Adventure Zone (TAZ), an actual-play RPG podcast co-created and starring Travis, his brothers Justin and Griffin, and their father Clint. Gerblins was adapted from their first adventure, for which Dungeon Master Griffin used the Wizards of the Coast Dungeons & Dragons 5e Starter Set. And Pietsch, a fan of the show from way back, was the McElroys’ top pick to help translate TAZ from a binge-worthy podcast to a series of graphic novels, the first of which is both uproariously funny and gorgeously illustrated.
— The Adventure Zone (@TheZoneCast) July 17, 2018
“There’s a special magic to working with people who are not just excited about the project but care so deeply and are so fully invested in making it as good as it could possibly be,” said Pietsch when I got the chance to sit down with her, Clint, and Travis in the midst of the chaos that is San Diego Comic-Con. She and the McElroys first formed a connection in 2015 when Pietsch began creating TAZ fan art. Pietsch’s art deservedly got passed around the TAZ fan community, and the McElroys took notice.
— Carey Pietsch @B&N Tribeca 7/26 (@careydraws) November 23, 2015
“She was posting so many great things,” said Clint, whose character, Merle Highchurch, is a dwarven cleric with a penchant for casting Zone of Truth. “It was like once every two or three days, one of us would text the others and say, ‘Did you see what this Pie-itch person has done?’” (“Pietsch,” for the record, is pronounced like the fruit.) That, combined with Pietsch’s involvement with the charity fan art collection The Adventure Zine and the McElroys enlisting her to design a poster for their first live TAZ show, was what led to the fateful meeting (in a Panera Bread) at which they agreed to collaborate on Gerblins. The second adaptation, Murder on the Rockport Limited, is already well underway.
“I don’t think there is an arc I wouldn’t be excited out of my mind to draw,” said Pietsch. “But I will say working on Rockport has been f—cking radical. It’s so much fun, it’s such a good balance of mystery and adventure and action and heart, and I’m so excited about that.”
Rockport was the first full sub-arc Griffin wrote without the aid of a pre-written campaign, making it different from Gerblins in a way that became more obvious throughout the adaptation process. “[Gerblins] really focused on Justin, Travis, Griffin, and Clint instead of Merle, Magnus, Taako [the elven wizard played by Justin], and the Dungeon Master,” said Clint, later adding, “There was some subtraction, but much more addition to it.”
According to Travis, whose Magnus Burnsides is a human fighter with a tendency to rush in, the aim with the graphic novel was to tell the characters’ story rather than shine the spotlight the McElroys and their meta jokes. “Now that we’re working on Rockport, I think that one, we know the process better, and two, the story of that and the ones going forward focus on Magnus and Merle and Taako, so it’s easier to work on that adaptation.” It also helps that both Clint and Pietsch devote the bulk of their time to TAZ—and happily so.
While Pietsch said she doesn’t think there’s a sub-arc she wouldn’t be “out of her mind excited” to draw, Travis is particularly pumped for The Eleventh Hour, a time-jumping tale in an Old West-esque setting. “It has a completely different aesthetic from the others.” And both he and Clint can’t wait for Petals to the Metal, the first sub-arc with substantial narrative heft.
“There are a few little things in Gerblins that start sowing the seeds of the overall mythos, and there’s more in Rockport,” said Clint. “But the pacing of [Petals] is so amazing and so remarkable. Certain characters showed up in that, and that, for me, was where the whole overall storyline started crystallizing.”
I’m looking forward to seeing every of that storyline in print—and, no matter how familiar you are (or aren’t) with TAZ, I assure you that you should be, too.
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